This week, our class was given the opportunity to hear Michael Durham, a reporter, correspondent, and editor at LIFE magazine, speak. In addition to it being a fabulous examination of LIFE photojournalism, it was a rare opportunity to hear first hand stories of some of the most interesting and important turning points in recent American history–including Kennedy’s assassination, the Birmingham riots, and the gay revolution.
Later in the week, I also attended a MoMA exhibit of the contemporary artist Walid Raad. The exhibit features Raad’s photography, video, sculpture, and performance from the last 25 years, exploring “the role of memory and narrative within discourses of conflict, and the construction of histories of art in the Arab world.”
Visiting the exhibit shortly after listening to the role LIFE’s photography and journalism played in shaping the U.S. and international narrative made me think about the role photography plays in shaping perception of news and the world around us. This is especially poignant as Raad’s work included fictionalized photographs, videotapes, notebooks, and lectures that related to real events and authentic research in audio, film, and photographic archives in Lebanon and elsewhere. The exhibit explores how things we generally take at face value–photographs, video etc.–can be manipulated to present a narrative that is not true.
This relates to Mr. Durham’s discussion of things LIFE reporters would not do, such as get involved in the story they were reporting–for example, buying dog whistles for Martin Luther King’s supporters. Comparing my experiences listening to Mr. Durham and walking through Walid Raad’s work caused me to reflect on the importance of photojournalism to tell a story and the expectation that the story is true.